Venerable Martyr Martha (Testova)

Venerable Martyr Martha was born in 1883 in the village of Arga of Tambov Province into a poor peasant family. At the age of 20, Martha entered the Seraphim-Diveyevo monastery where her younger sister Pelagia had stayed since 1901.

After the monastery dissolution, like any other Diveyevo sister, nun Martha was left homeless and oppressed by the authorities. Together with Anastasia Melyukova, she settled down at the church’s gatehouse in Razvilye village at Borsky District of Gorky Province. They read at church and prayed. The local faithful treated the Diveyevo nuns with respect, sought their advice and intercessory prayers to themselves and their loved ones. In return, they helped the nuns survive by giving them food and money.

On November 18, 1937, both nuns were arrested. Nun Martha was found guilty of animosity towards the current ruling system and contra-revolutionary propaganda among the faithful from the nearby settlements.

One of the witnesses, brought by the investigation, described the sisters’ lives as follows: “Melyukova and Testova reside at the pavilion next to the church, where local peasant women visit them during religious feast days as well as on weekdays. Testova and Melyukova lead religious discussions there, while pushing their contra-revolutionary agenda directed against the activities of the Soviet authorities and party leaders. With that, they say that under the Tsarist rule peasants used to live far better and that everything, including produce and goods, was more readily available and a lot cheaper. According to the sisters, these days everything is at short supply and costs way more. The collective farms, they say, were created to seize bread from peasants and charge taxes. Additionally, they claim that everyone loathes the Soviet rule. Before, smart and educated people were at the helm of the country versus today’s heathens; nothing good can be expected of them. They describe communists as thieves who are only good at desecrating the Lord’s churches and destroying religion, etc. etc.”

Nun Martha was interrogated only once. She pleaded not guilty. On December 13, 1937, after a two-day investigation and subsequent two-week incarceration at Gorky jail, NKVD’s special “Troika” council sentenced mother Pelagia to eight years of imprisonment at a forced labor camp and sent her under guard to Kazakhstan.

On May 3, 1938, nun Martha arrived to Karlag, her final place of residence in her earthly life and the last trial of her steadfast devotion and love of God. She was sent to the main facility known for its harshest labor conditions. Despite her sickly disposition and disability, she never missed a workday or refused any work assignment. Even the camp administration recognized her work ethics. Her clock cards contain such remarks as “good work quality,” “cares about tools,” “keeps to production quotas,” “works responsibly,” “well disciplined,” and “behaves well while off work.”

Nun Martha spent a total of three years in Karlag. In December of 1940 she was admitted to hospital for treatment where she died from cardiac decompensation on April 26, 1941. She was buried on the same day at the Spassky campsite’s cemetery.

At the Holy Synod Council of the Russian Orthodox Church from October 7, 2002, her name was added to the Synaxis of new martyrs and confessors of Russia in the 20th century.


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